Beloved, this morning, we are embarking on a new series. It is topical in nature so the scripture will be coming from all over the Bible. In undertaking this series, I want to give you the blueprint for a lasting friendship. The outline for the blueprint for our series on friendship is as follows:
- CHARACTERIZING FRIENDSHIPS
- CHOOSING OUR FRIENDSHIPS
- CHECKING OUR FRIENDSHIPS
- CHANGING OUR FRIENDSHIPS
- CHERISHING OUR FRIENDSHIPS
- CHALLENGING OUR FRIENDSHIPS
- CHOPPING FRIENDSHIPS
- CHIEF OF FRIENDS
An African proverb says that bad friends will prevent you from having good friends and that is indeed very true. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33) so friends should be chosen carefully. We will be taking our main scripture from John 15:13-15.
John 15:13-15 reads: 13Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
In our world, today, it has become increasingly more difficult to find someone who is a true friend. Among Christians and among church members, the expectation is that it would or should be a lot easier to find a friend who sticks closer than a brother. However, that is not the case.
Why is it so? While I would like to acknowledge that sin, traced to Adam and Eve has resulted in many heartbreaks including mistrust in relationships, my focus in this series of sermons is not to look at the origin of broken relationships but rather look at friendship, particularly that between those of us who identify as born again Christians. So again I ask, “Why is it that even among Christians, it is sometimes not easy to find true friends?” Beloved, consider with me one of the reasons why people will give up membership in their church and go on to leave their home church: troubles for example, betrayal within the church.
Though there are troubles within the church, many times and rightfully so, you think you have friends, brothers and sisters in the Lord who will provide solace, comfort and refuge from the disturbance arising within the church. But then, sooner or later, you find out that those you looked up to and with whom you have cultivated a relationship are not friends; further, you discover that at best, you only have a handful of true friends. You may be surprised but I have to say that sometimes, you could be the betrayer. Am I right or what?
To stress what I said earlier, this morning, I want to bring this particular message on “Friendship” to you. My hope is that we all become godly friends to others. Turn with me to our main text John 15:13-15; please take note that we will be dancing with several verses and passages from the scriptures so do make sure that you have your pen and pad in hand, take notes and be prepared to share the Word with friends and family. Did I say with “friends”? Yes, and by “friends,” I am referring to your non-Christian friends. My other hope is that in doing so, you will be able to invite them to church and ultimately to the Lord.
Throughout history and from the world’s various cultures, there have been so many wise sayings about friends/friendships and so allow me to sample a few this morning. In Ghana, there is a saying that “Show me your friend and I will show you your character.” Aristotle (4th century B.C.) is said to have said: “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit.” A Swedish proverb says “Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief” and, “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives,” says Euripides (408 B.C.). I like this one, which is attributed to one Thomas Fuller (1732): “A good friend is my nearest relation.” You see, I can go on and on about wise sayings on friendship as there are so many. Rather, I will round up this sampling of wise musings with another African saying: “A small house will hold a hundred friends.” Deep, huh?
CHARACTERIZATION OF FRIENDSHIP – ETYMOLOGY
So, have you ever thought or asked yourself what this word “friend,” “friendship” is? Etymoloically, the word Friend means loving and it is recorded that together with its Germanic relatives (for example Freund or vriend in Dutch) it can be traced as far back as an ancient German verb which means love. Now the word Friendship as yoy aleady know is a derivative of the word Friend.
Friendship – Definition:
According to the Oxford Dictionary, Friendship is a relationship between two or more people who hold mutual affection for each other. Meanwhile, another dictionary definition of a friend is “a person who has a real liking for and confidence in another person.” In his Expository Dictionary of NT Words, W.E. Vine, says a friend is one who is “loved, dear.” The term “buddy” does not even come close.
Isn’t that something? Yes, isn’t that something as well that in some cultures, an important saying is that a dog is a man’s best friend? Because this saying could be interpreted in several ways, it does raise some questions but this is not a part of our inquiry and really belongs in another sermon.
Some people claim that wise people are good at choosing, forging, and keeping friendships. But the reality is that apart from bullying and intimidation, one can never have control over the people who one chooses to become their friends. One reason could be the fact that as you age, you change and just as you change, people also change, including friends you have know for ages. Maybe that is why certain cultures, in all their “wisdom,” and because changes, prefer to elevate their relationship with dogs above that with their fellow human being; hence the saying a dog is a man’s best friend.
As we know, songs have been written about friendship and even in our churches, including Restoration Church, we such hymns as “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” By the way, I’d like to remind you that philosophers have philosophized and authors have written books on friendship. Based on books, thousands of movies have been made, some exploring in detail the concept of friendship. Chances are, some of you here have seen movies that are based on stories culled from the Bible. Fact is, though, everyone has an opinion or something to say about friendship, if not about friends.
Friendship Is Love
But what about the Word of God? What does it say about friends and friendship? The Bible is the final authority and indeed it does say so much about friendship. Yet, the term “friendship,” as far as I am aware, occurs only once in the English New Testament, in James 4:4 where it says Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Now if you will bear with me, I’d like to go a little further with this, that there are other New Testament words for friends, like hetairos, which means “companion, comrade,” or plesion which means “neighbour.”
But then, there is another word, Philia. This is the Greek word from which we obtain the word friendship and it comes from the philos family, another Greek word, which is translated “love.” If you were listening closely, you will recall that when I was talking about etymology, I said that etymologically, the word Friend means loving. And, W.E. Vine who has done some amazing work on the Bible even hints that friendship includes the idea of “loving as well as being loved.” As you listen, note that the true value of friendship is love.
Talking about placing value on friendship, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says 9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
These verses from Solomon’s mouth and pen are all encompassing with regard to relationships and include, for example, business relationships (v.9), marriage (v.11). In fact, though verse 9 highlights the importance of having business relationships, the Word of God is here assuring us that one of the very best investments you can ever make in your life is, and should not only be financially-focused. Instead, let that investment be made in relationships, v.11, but most particularly the vertical one between you and God.
There is also another example that I want us to look at quickly, Proverbs 17:17, which admonishes us that “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for the day of adversity.” I wont say much about this as we will be coming across this verse again later in our series, alright?
Friendship – Biblical Examples
As I researched this sermon, I came across something by Carl B. Bridges, Jr. He notes that In both Testaments the ideas of friend and friendship involve three components: association, loyalty, and affection.
He says as well that there are also three levels of meaning:
- Friendship as association only;
- Friendship as association plus loyalty; and,
- Friendship as association plus loyalty plus affection.
A. Old Testament
(1) David and Jonathan
When we open up the Bible and turn to the Old Testament, one of the greatest examples of horizontal, human-to-human friendship that encompasses all of the above three and which are up on the overhead screen is that of David and Jonathan, son of king Saul. In brief, in spite of Jonathan’s father’s pursuit of, and attempts to kill David, the Bible records that Jonathan stood staunchly and unflinchingly by his friend David. Jonathan’s loyalty and his friendship with David, exceeded that to his own father and even soundly trumped the ambitions that his own father had cultivated on his behalf, (1 Samuel 18:1-4; 20:14-17).
You know something? When we look at their friendship, so attached was David to his loyal friend that the Bible says that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself (1 Samuel 18:1). Isn’t this love? Isn’t this the value and expression of true friendship. Beloved, do you recall what I said earlier, that the real definition of friendship is love? It is not surprising then that after Jonathan’s death, David penned a song in Jonathan’s honour. And you all know David, the prolific songwriter that he was, that a pathos-filled tribute (2 Samuel 1:30-32) flowing straight from his heart, through his pen and on to paper should be expected.
Saints, we haven’t gone far in this series and already we are being taught a good lesson here about what friendship is all about. The friendship between these two young men was a friendship closer than brotherhood. You will find most of their story in 1 Samuel 18 through chapter 20. I encourage you to do some further reading on these two and the example and legacy they left; however, some pertinent passages that you can look up are 1 Samuel 18:1-4; 19: 4-7; 20:11-17, 41-42.
B. New Testament
(1) The Apostle Paul and his Friends
In the New Testament, we see several examples of true earthly friendship. In many of his epistles Paul starts and ends with tributes to his friends, particularly those who ministered to him, supported him, prayed for him, and loved him.
Another thing Paul does, which is recorded in the Bible is that he introduces friends of his to others and he requests that his greetings be passed on to those close to him. Don’t we hear and read of friends introducing their friends to other friends? Don’t we do so ourselves? We have instances in Romans 16:1-4 where Paul says of his dear friends:
1I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 2That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. 3Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”
In fact, Romans 16 shows us how several believers really made themselves trustworthy friends to Paul, and did all that in the service of Jesus our King. Hallelujah! Such friendship! I have not even talked about Jesus and His friends and I’m gushing with emotion! I tell you, there is something about the God’s Word that just captivates you!
(2) Jesus with Mary, Martha, Lazarus
What about Jesus’ example, which is the epitome of all friendship? I’m referring to the friendship of Jesus, with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. What I find interesting is that before we are introduced to these people and the exemplar friendship that was going to characterize their lives, Jesus immediately prior to encountering them had said this, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan: 27And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).
Then further down the chapter, Luke 10:38 says that “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.” The rest of their relationship is, as they say, history. Theirs was a very close relationship: Jesus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. They were such true and good friends that they were able to speak sincerely and honestly to each other whatever was on their minds. That is why the siblings (really, Mary), when Lazarus died were able to plainly tell Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32), to which John, writing (John 11:34), recounts the following about Jesus, And he said, “Where have you laid him?”
Beloved, the story doesn’t stop there because before resurrecting Lazarus from the dead, Jesus showed them the depth of His friendship. John puts it this way John 11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Jesus then asked, “Where have you laid him?” in John 11:34. If you are following the text with me, then you will notice that right after John 11:34 John records the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept (John 11:35). Do you see that? As a true friend, Mary did what she could to tell her friend, Jesus, the truth and Jesus, a true friend who sticks closer than a brother, responded, helping His friends. Isn’t that truly amazing?
Friendship – Introduction and Overview Continued
Today as we continue in our biblical study of friendship, I want us to look at the Old Testament. Turn with me to the Book of Amos 3:3 where we find the fundamental principle that should underlie all friendships. This verse is one of my favourites, which I learned several years back and it says: Can two walk together, except they be agreed? While commitment and sacrifice are key principles when it comes to friendship, the fundamental one really is agreement and I am referring to having the same mind.
Friends are of, or should be of like mind. The truth that comes from all of this is that friendship is a relationship that is entered into by individuals, and it is only as good or as close and lasting as those individuals choose to make it.
Genesis 2:18 When God finished His creation, He said, “It is good.” But then, the first thing that was “not good” was that Adam was alone. Isn’t that something? Someone has said that if you can count your true friends on the fingers of one hand, you are blessed. You see, God did not want us to be by our lonesome selves; He didn’t want us alone and so since He created mankind as a social being, man needs to be in close association with others. Just in case, I want to make it clear that being created social creatures means that as humans, we are most comfortable when we have family, friends and acquaintances. Sure, there are those with gifts for celibacy but that doesn’t mean they have to be anti-social or alone; there is a difference, alright?
Do you know what I’ve discovered, which is both mind-boggling and disturbing? I’ve found out that today, people want friendship but no relationship. So, there exists right here in the west, a whole generation of people out there who “meet” on line; “date” online; “have sex”” online; “break up” online; and end up in person, all by themselves, in a psychiatrist’s office and are as devastated as though they knew the person in person, met the person and were friends. But then all along, they never even saw each other in person, let alone ever felt or touched the other.
But look at what the Bible teaches that, the individual needs to be in human company, with other people so Romans 14:7 states, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.” We need family and we need friends; we are not to be alone.
Why is it that God wants us in relationship and community? You see, it is because that is how He exists, namely, in community. Relationship, community, friendship, yes friendship is an important element in a fulfilled, contented life. Just watch this, that those who have good family or those who have close friends, whether one or two or five or a multitude, always appear, usually, to be happy and well-adjusted. But then in the same vein, let me be honest and real; those who call themselves your friends may cause you shame, grief, hardship, loss and will constantly disappoint you. Is that not one of the reasons behind this sermon?
So what exactly does the Bible have to say about friends?
A lot, a whole lot but I have picked a few scripture references to share with you. There are so many examples in the Bible but I am restricting myself to a few so what I’m sharing with you is by no means exhaustive. I just feel led to whet your appetite so that you will have a point of departure for digging into the Word of God.
On the positive side, the Bible says that friends:
- Support and help each other (Proverbs 17:17; 27:10).
- Share everything. Romans 12:15, it says Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
- Give good counsel Ointment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. (Proverbs 27:9)
- Rebuke in love, thereby proving to be more faithful than a hypocritical flatterer (Proverbs 27:6).
- Are loyal and don’t reveal secrets: A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter (Proverbs 11:13).
Doesn’t these references make you reflect on your friendships? And what about this, that friends can comfort, console and help us when we are in trouble, as when Jesus said:
5Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
Another example I want to share with you is the case of Barzillai the Gileadite who consoled David when the latter was hunted by Saul (2 Samuel 19:25-26). A last example or reference I want to give concerns Jephthah’s daughter’s friends who consoled her before she was to be sacrificed. You know the story, found in Judges 11:37-38 where her father, in a rash made a brash oath to God. But God being who He is, Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed, though she was committed to perpetual virginity.
On the negative side, I’d like to caution you against peer pressure or so-called friends who can entice and lead us into sin. Let me refer you to Jonadab who persuaded Amnon to rape his half-sister, Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-6).
You know, an African proverb says that a close friend can become a close enemy and is that true or what! In 2 Samuel 15:12-17:23, Ahithopel betrayed king David. You know what he did? Though he was David’s trusted confidant and counselor, he turned against David, gave lousy advice while spreading rumours about king David. But first, he joined plotters of a coup d’état thus befriending an enemy who wanted to overthrow David’s kingship and the kingdom.
So then in Ahithopel we can see that friends can also prove false, and this is most especially where they pretend affection but in reality are focused on their own motives. Such friends will desert you when they no longer see any benefit for the friendship. There are lots of examples in the Old Testament. You can check out these two verses, Psalm 55:12-14; Proverbs 19:4, 6-7.
In the New Testament, we have a rather painful and heart-wrenching example in Judas (Matthew 26:15-17, 25; Luke 22:47-48), who acted like a friend but really had his own agenda, putting his own self-interests above everything else and betraying our Lord and Saviour.
Before I draw to a close, let me share a few more examples with you. A friend can lead us astray in regard to our faith; Israel, though warned by God, made friends with pagans who eventually led them to worship false gods. On an individual level, friends can entice others to follow other gods, as we see in Deuteronomy 13:6-11. We are not going to read this passage, okay. And even though during that time period, such an act was punishable by death, people still followed false friends and false gods.
Another instance is where friends provide false comfort and bad advice, as Job’s friends did. Do you know that in so doing, they made his suffering worse and ended up displeasing the Lord in the process? Just check out Job 2:11-13, 6:14-27, 42:7-9. Anyway, we will later be looking at Job’ story as one of our illustrations so let me go on to my last example, that, friendship can be destroyed because of gossip (Proverbs 16:28) or because of grudges (Proverbs 17:9).
Are you with me? I’m winding done now so stay close. Listen carefully, beloved. Friends should be chosen with seriousness and with care because, as Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good character,” (1 Corinthians 15:33). You don’t want to hang out with the wrong crowd and then try to convince me, “Oh pastor, I don’t do what they do!” Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, says the Word, because whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap, Galatians 6:7.
As I end, I want to say this beloved. I want to really encourage you to read the Book of Proverbs over and over because it is the best manual you’ll find on people skills. It will teach you how to relate to family members, colleagues, friends, Christian brothers and sisters. It is the best manual because it is God’s Word, was given to us by God and is for our use.
In John 15:13-15, the Lord Jesus Christ gave us the definition of a true friend: 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Amen. Shall we pray.